Our local ingredients have been great. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve eaten all kinds of organic greens, root vegetables and brassicas, which have been served simply or transformed into soups, stews, and egg-based dishes. We still have plentiful local organic peppers, and I have a stash of tomatoes from my garden that were picked green before the first big frost and now make a many-hued display on my counter, ready to be roasted. (Even though we’re meat-eaters, vegetables are the core of our diet.)
One of my great finds at the farmers’ market in the first week of the Dark Days challenge was a gigantic Savoy cabbage, with elephant-ear leaves that have a crinkly, veined creature-like texture. I didn’t need a cabbage but this one was too good to pass up. It was so crisp and fresh that even the usually tough wrapper leaves could be ribboned and shallow-boiled to make a tender and flavorful dish, as in the first Dark Days post.
The drawback to this lovely specimen was the amount of space it took up in my refrigerator, now that the outside weather is too unpredictable to use the porch as a spare fridge. So for the second week, I made stuffed cabbage, a staple of cold-climate countries that thrive on dark days. My kids remarked that this was one of the best things they’ve ever eaten, since the cabbage was both flavorful and prevalent, and the meat and vegetable stuffing was light.
This is why: I used red peppers, onions, and wrapper-leaf ribbons to lighten up the seasoned ground pork, and the wrapped leaves were covered by home-canned organic tomatoes from last year, which I needed to use up. Other typical ways of stuffing cabbage with sausage or other meats would have included rice or bread. Not local. By increasing the amount of vegetable filler, and eliminating the starches, I actually got a better and more nourishing result. Go Mom.
Finally, since I like to have something raw with every meal, I made a salad with local organic escarole and tiny snips of herbs from my pots and local stash – tarragon, lovage, chives, parsley, dill. While I piled everything on one plate for the group photo, we usually eat the salad as a later course.
I love this challenge. It will make me a better cook.
12 outer leaves from a Savoy cabbage, washed
About 1 c of ribbons from cabbage leaves
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium red pepper, diced
Splash of olive oil
1 lb ground pork or pork sausage (I used one with Kielbasa seasoning, meaning pepper, salt and caraway but I could have used plain ground pork)
Seasonings: Salt, pepper, ½ tsp caraway seeds
1 pt tomato sauce (I used my home-canned organic tomato-onion-garlic sauce)
2 tsp organic red wine vinegar (or cider vinegar)
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Separate the cabbage leaves, taking care to keep them from tearing, and blanch them in small batches until crisp-tender (2-3 minutes). Remove carefully and set aside to drain. Blanch the ribboned cabbage, drain and set aside. Cut the thick ribs from the bottom of the cabbage leaves, making a v-formation.
Saute onions and pepper in a little olive oil until translucent. Set aside to cool. Combine the onions, peppers and cabbage ribbons with the ground pork sausage. Cook a small portion to test the tastes and adjust. (I added ½ tsp caraway seeds to the mix.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the cabbage leaves flat and place ¼-1/3 c of the filling on each, just above the v-cut. Fold the bottom and then the sides over the filling and roll up, placing them seam side down in a baking pan. Spoon over the tomato sauce thinned with a little vinegar. Bake for 45 minutes until bubbly. Let set a few minutes before serving.